Trade schools — also known as vocational, career or technical schools — give students hands-on training in skills needed for a specific field. They’re designed to prepare students for direct entrance into the workforce. Trade schools are common for careers such as welding, culinary arts, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).
Before enrolling in a trade school, you should research opportunities to get the same training more affordably. In many cases, you can train for the same career by doing an apprenticeship or a technical program at a community college.
AT A GLANCE
- Typical program length: One to two years or less
- Credentials offered: Certificate
- Cost: Varies
Disadvantages of trade schools
- The majority are for-profit schools, which tend to be more expensive and have lower graduation rates, lower earnings after attending and higher student loan default rates than public and nonprofit schools, according to a 2017 Federal Reserve Bank of New York report.
- Programs vary in quality and reputability. The Federal Trade Commission recommends evaluating programs based on factors including cost, completion rates and job placement rates.
- If the school isn’t properly accredited — not all trade schools are — you won’t be eligible for federal financial aid, which includes the Pell Grant, work-study programs and federal student loans.
Benefits of trade schools
- You can get focused, hands-on training for a specific career. There are less likely to be general education requirements, such as English and math coursework, at a trade school.
- The school may help you find a job. However, beware of schools that misrepresent their job placement rates; for-profit colleges owned by Corinthian Colleges were accused of doing so before the company closed and filed for bankruptcy in 2015.
How to enroll in a trade school
- Compare your options. Use the Department of Education’s College Scorecard to compare schools by checking average annual cost, graduation rate and median salaries of former students. Double-check that the schools you apply to are properly licensed and accredited.
- Apply. Ask about requirements for the program you’re interested in; they vary by program and school.
- Submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, to see what government aid you qualify for. If your program has a federal school code, it can accept federal financial aid, but not all trade schools do.
If you’re not eligible for federal aid, or you need to borrow more than the federal loan limits, you may need to take out private student loans. Private student loans don’t have as many flexible repayment options and other borrower protections as federal loans.